Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 23 September 2012
In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
The sea of Galilee has a reputation for being a place of great beauty and having a pleasant climate, for some of the time as some of you who have been there can testify. But it is also a place; I am told where the picture can change dramatically and in almost no time at all.
It is that unpredictability of the sea which St. John the Divine uses so well as the perfect symbol of the instability of life which is also used to show in the Gospels the revelation of God in the person of Our Lord Jesus.
We know that the Jews were never fond of the sea waters at the best of times, neither were they through the Deutero-Levitical law allowed to be very fond of pigs either. The seas are unpredictable and frightening, representing chaos within creation. So you will recall in Genesis, God is working in creation, ordering and imposing design on the formlessness and chaos which existed at the beginning. And the pigs get a hard time, because in the Levitical and Deuteronomic Law “the pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. You shall not eat their meat, and you shall not touch their carcasses.” So as one person puts it, pigs for the Jews are to be seen (though for different reasons), like Rats to us in this City today. The story of the demonic to the Jews, the destruction of a herd of pigs would have no doubt been somewhat humours and of a relief to them. For it was into the pigs, into that which was unclean, that the destructive energy of the demoniac is cast. Chaos which is Legion, is unleashed into the waters of Chaos. Yet in the calming of the sea, chaos in creation is reordered, as our Lord reorders and restores the health and identity of the one who lives amongst the tombs.
Both stories, ask us to consider chaos and evil, both in the world and in the individual and not to deny it. But in the midst of the chaos Matthew wants to remind us, of the Lord Jesus reordering and calming. Claiming again the authority and power of God. In these two stories that we have heard this evening, Jesus does actions that no ordinary human person can do. By subduing the storm at sea and by exorcising demons and if we were to go to the beginning of Chapter 9 in Marks Gospel we would hear him offering the forgiveness of sins. The testimonies of those who see Jesus at work, in them these things recognise that he goes beyond the powers attributed to the rabbis and Jewish leaders. The claim of Jesus doing these things, places him in a position like that of an angel of light according to the Qumran. But by doing such things and mighty acts, Jesus does things attributed to God in the Jewish Scriptures.
For Matthew’s Community, these stories helped to answer the question, “What kind of man is this?” He is clearly no ordinary man. Yet it seems to Matthew’s community, that the retelling of the stilling of the storm provided a model for the church under pressure. The gospel emphasised to them the tough conditions faced by the disciples and the overriding importance of their following Jesus. For Matthew, it is important to state to reiterate the central message of the story to them and to us which is the power of Jesus and how the disciples and we should approach him in a spirit of prayer. As we heard in v.25 “And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!” so Matthew teaches his community to be patient in learning to trust in Jesus’ power. The story about the demons most probably had some connection with the understanding of the mission of the earthly Jesus to Israel because Matthew shows little interest in the demoniac, rather, for Matthew, the real concern is that Jesus achieves a victory over the demons. That he is recognised, that he acts and that he succeeds in having authority over them to cast them into the swine.
In both these stories, through seeking to understand the nature of our Lord Jesus, the disciples, the demoniac and we have to acknowledge that in turning to God that whatever and however he is and acts, he is mystery. We can never, adequately grasp who he is, for he is the one who stills the storm, he is the one who heals and forgives, and yet he is infinitely more than we can imagine. If in the scriptures we are grasping and hoping to glean a clear and precise notion of who God is, then we are set for lifetimes struggle. God is mystery and acts mysteriously but that doesn’t mean he is unintelligible. It means perhaps that we have to be committed to a lifetime of seeking him as Matthew suggests, in prayer.
These two stories taught the Matthean community to rely on God, to expect the unexpected, to trust and to hope; and with these stories still ringing in our ears it is that we come into the presence of the ancient of days, the holy one of God. Lord Save us! we are perishing is what those closest to him call out.. it is what we call out to him to say as his church. In his presence, what do you ask of him in this benediction which calms for a moment the raging storm within, which eliminates that which possesses us and which momentarily heals and forgives us as soon as we would ever ask to be healed. For as with those with him in the boat, on those tumultuous waves, for all that we know and seek God to assist us with, we pray in this benediction, Lord Hear us. Lord graciously hear us. Amen.
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard